You know Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. Now meet Renée Bal­lard

The Late Show

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - De­clan Burke By Michael Con­nelly Orion, ¤15.99 De­clan Burke is the ed­i­tor of Trou­ble Is Our Busi­ness (New Is­land)

The Late Show, Michael Con­nelly’s first novel to fea­ture a new series char­ac­ter since Mickey Haller ap­peared in The Lincoln Lawyer, in 2005, opens with Renée Bal­lard and her part­ner, John Jenk­ins, tak­ing a call to in­ves­ti­gate credit-card fraud. A mun­dane crime on the face of it, but par for the course: work­ing “the late show”, which is to say the night shift, out of LA’s Hol­ly­wood di­vi­sion, Bal­lard and Jenk­ins gen­er­ally turn up to crime scenes, write their re­ports, then hand over the cases to the day shift the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

Con­nelly, how­ever, is the cre­ator of Harry Bosch, one of the most iconic pro­tag­o­nists in Amer­i­can crime fic­tion, and the de­cep­tively rou­tine open­ing quickly segues into a story that finds Bal­lard in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ab­duc­tion and bru­tal as­sault of the trans­gen­der Ra­mona Ra­mone and a mul­ti­ple shoot­ing at a night­club, dur­ing which a wait­ress, Cyn­thia Had­del, is mur­dered sim­ply be­cause she is a po­ten­tial wit­ness.

The names may have changed, then, but Con­nelly’s song re­mains es­sen­tially the same. The Late Show reads like a Bosch novel, as Con­nelly braids mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his plot, driv­ing the story on­ward with pre­cise, mea­sured prose that es­chews sen­sa­tion­al­ism. Bal­lard, like the au­thor, is a former jour­nal­ist, whose train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence had given her skills that helped with writ­ing re­ports. “She wrote short, clear sen­tences that gave mo­men­tum to the nar­ra­tive of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Where Bosch is a loner apart from his re­la­tion­ship with his daugh­ter, Mad­die, Bal­lard is a loner apart from her re­la­tion­ship with her grand­mother Tutu. Sleep­ing on the beach, show­er­ing and chang­ing at the sta­tion, Bal­lard lives a min­i­mal­ist ex­is­tence that al­lows her to ded­i­cate her­self to her work, be­liev­ing that noth­ing should in­ter­fere with “the sa­cred bond that ex­ists be­tween homi­cide vic­tims and the de­tec­tives who speak for them”.

Like Bosch, Bal­lard ad­heres to a Manichean phi­los­o­phy: “big evil” ex­ists in the world, and her job is to pre­vent the spread of its “cal­lous ma­lig­nancy”.

That said, Bal­lard is sig­nif­i­cantly more than a Bosch re­place­ment or clone, at least for the time be­ing. (Con­nelly will pub­lish the 20th Harry Bosch novel, Two Kinds of Truth, this year.) An ab­sorb­ing char­ac­ter on her own terms, Bal­lard is morally dis­ci­plined but ir­rev­er­ently free-spir­ited as she goes down those mean streets (the ref­er­ence to Chan­dler’s The Long Good­bye is no coin­ci­dence), and although she may plough a lone fur­row broadly fa­mil­iar to fans of

‘‘ Although Bal­lard may plough a broadly fa­mil­iar fur­row, her gen­der let Con­nelly ex­plore av­enues closed off to his male pro­tag­o­nists

Philip Mar­lowe, Bosch or Haller, her gen­der al­lows Con­nelly to ex­plore av­enues closed off to his male pro­tag­o­nists.

Her ex­pe­ri­ence of in­sti­tu­tion­alised mi- sog­yny in the ranks of the LAPD may have hard­ened the pre­vi­ously ide­al­is­tic Bal­lard, but it has not shut down her in­stinc­tive emo­tional re­sponses; if any­thing it has height­ened her com­pas­sion for fe­male vic­tims of crime. Mean­while, her sense of her own vul­ner­a­bil­ity and her at­ten­u­ated aware­ness of pos­si­ble threat, both of which feed into the story to a sig­nif­i­cant de­gree, are not qual­i­ties that Bosch or Haller – or very few male pro­tag­o­nists in crime fic­tion, for that mat­ter – would be likely to ad­mit to out loud.

Early in the novel Bal­lard notes that the mur­dered wait­ress was an aspir­ing ac­tor who had played the part of “Girl at the Bar” in an episode of the TV show Bosch, “which Bal­lard knew was based on the ex­ploits of a now-re­tired LAPD de­tec­tive”. Bosch has been hang­ing on by his fin­ger­nails for some years, semi-re­tired and rag­ing at the dy­ing of the light, but it can only be a mat­ter of time be­fore Con­nelly puts the old warhorse out to grass.

That day may well pro­voke the kind of protests not wit­nessed since Arthur Co­nan Doyle tipped Sher­lock Holmes off the Re­ichen­bach Falls, but Con­nelly’s fans needn’t fret. In Renée Bal­lard, Con­nelly has cre­ated yet an­other po­ten­tially iconic tar­nished knight of those peren­ni­ally mean streets, a woman who un­der­stands, as her psy­chi­a­trist warns, that “if you go into dark­ness, the dark­ness goes into you”, but will stare de­fi­antly down the abyss none­the­less.

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